Consciousness as a Continuity: Radical Inclusivity and the Art of Staying on the Inside

by Jean Richardson on February 26, 2017

A couple of months ago I was introduced to the notion of radical inclusivity by a colleague who was very concerned about diversity and inclusion.  When I asked for more explanation of what radical inclusivity is, I didn’t get a very satisfying explanation.  So, I did what we do:  I went to the web.

This wasn’t much more helpful.  There seemed to be a lot of information about radical inclusion (welcoming diversity) at Burning Man.  And, I found a consulting company making a living out of helping people collaborate in virtual teams.  Finally, a few days later, I found Jeff Carreira’s little book Radical Inclusivity:  Expanding Our Minds Beyond Dualistic Thinking.

Carreira talks about radical inclusivity from the perspective of realizing that consciousness is a continuity and that everything already is included.  He presents radical inclusivity as an alternative to dualistic thinking, and, in the process, does the best job I have ever read or heard of helping the reader understand the effect of dualistic thinking on our minds and the difficulty of using such a mind to move beyond dualistic thinking.

Additionally, Carreira notes the value of poetry in helping us “fall into the wormhole” of consciousness and thereby experience another level of consciousness.  He points to poetry’s multi-level meaning, or ambiguity, as a tool that allows us use language that is steeped in dualistic thinking to move to a non-dualistic consciousness.  For me, this resonated with Allan Coombs’ comment in Consciousness Explained Better on the poetic nature of integral consciousness.

Some people would call my delight in these thinkers’ reports and conclusions “confirmation bias.”  My  intuitions and observations about how dialogic interpersonal processes, honestly engaged, evolve the consciousness of teams were grounded in experience with both groups and individuals over the course of my career.  Carreira’s expression of radical inclusivity mirrors my sense of the now-ness of a level of consciousness that our history and habit of dualistic thinking masks.  As I am a poet who is interested in dialogic processes and social technologies of awakening in the context of each other, his use of a metaphor of dancing close to the edge of a wormhole and thereby falling into the next level of consciousness also makes sense to me.  Poetry can push us in to another state of consciousness.  Poetic moments in dialogue and in relationship can also push us in.  And software developers are caught up in poetic and metaphorical moments frequently.  We take them for granted.

In emphasizing that consciousness is a continuity, Carreira notes that ‘It is common today for people to think about the “interconnectedness” of all things, but I believe this term falls short of the true continuity of reality because it implies separate elements that are connected, which is not the same as one continuous whole.’  He strives to express to us the possibility of shifting from a “things in space” consciousness to a “continuity-unfolding consciousness.”  As part of this attempt, he introduces us to the emerging philosophy of speculative realism, a way of thinking about the world that science fiction readers will at once recognize as familiar.  Carreira encourages us to reach for a consciousness that “lies beyond our current dualistic, things-in-space, human-centered consciousness.”

Why does this matter to agilists?

Many of the problems I see on agile teams are related to a lack of awareness of their interconnectedness not just with each other on the team but with the organization as a whole and with the customers’ experience and purposes.  The teams have not realized their rights and responsibilities as an agile team to be in dialogue with the customer and be informed of that customer’s needs and experience which then helps form the team’s response.  Very often they must make personal, engineering, and work process changes in order to be the team they want to be and meet customer needs sustainably.

If we look at this problem from a systems thinking point of view, we can see the individuals on the team as living systems and the team as a living system within the organization, which is a system, in relation to the market, which is a system composed of customers which are each systems.  If we look at this from a radically inclusive perspective, as described by Carreira, the immediacy of the relationships and impacts is much higher.  When one location in the continuity—the team—takes or does not take an action the impact to another location in the continuity is much more rapid.  So, for instance, a team neglecting high quality engineering practices codes in more defects which results in undeployable product increments.  Lack of deployable features and enhancements impact the customer expecting those features.  This impacts the customer’s willingness to sustain their financial support of the software company, which in turn impacts the team.  An individual’s lack of will to speak up or learn can impact the entire continuity.

From a radically inclusive viewpoint, maintaining a high standard of software engineering practice is a matter of self-interest because the effects of poor practice impact use and the entire continuity in a reverberating fashion, like echoes reverberating off cave walls when a stone is dropped into a pool of water in the floor of the cave.

Because the world has become increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous—as has the technological context in which any development team functions today—the value of good personal and team level work process and technical practices has escalated.  These practices work together to ensure that teams are more likely to have increasingly stable systems within their area of accountability and to be able to enhance those systems more fluidly.  At the same time, these practices evolve the quality of awareness, noticing, and knowledge of self and other—the consciousness–on these teams.  Team members come to understand that their ability to learn and adapt are their two greatest competencies.  And, they come to understand how their individual and collective actions reverberate out and back to them—as if we were all part of one continuity.


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